Chickens Coming to Campus

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

Many Swarthmore students share a desire to make the world a better place; one way to achieve this goal is through sustainable initiatives. EarthLust and the Good Food Project are already established groups for students interested in the environmental movement, but Sarah Schueb ’12 wanted to create something new.

“I’m from Ohio and freshman year, I always jokingly said we needed some chickens,” says Scheub. “I jokingly promised to help,” said Nick Vogt ’12, an active member of Swarthmore Chickens, “but over the summer we came up with a proposal, and we hope to have chickens in the spring.”

The proposal involves fifteen chickens, cared for by students, living on campus in a mobile, solar-powered coop. The eggs would be collected and featured in Sharples meals. Vogt explained, “We are starting small. We are not raising enough chickens to have a huge sustainable impact, so the emphasis is on education.” A major goal of the organization is to educate students on the farming process and bring them closer to their food.

Scheub said, “At home I can go to my garden and pick the lettuce that I put in my salad. I know the people who produce the beef that I eat. I know where my food is coming from and what my money is supporting. With the chicken coop, students would have a connection to the eggs they eat and a chance to help raise chickens and farm.”

Aside from educating on the farming process, the Chicken Initiative hopes to be part of campus sustainability. Jamie Hansen Lewis ‘10, director of Good Foods Project and member of Swarthmore Chickens, said, “The eggs produced will be included in Friday locally-produced bagged lunches, hopefully coming next fall.”

The goals of the Swarthmore Chicken Project have attracted a diverse membership. Travis Moakley Mattingly ’13 said he decided to work with the campus Chicken Initiative “because it really represents how I want the world to work: Think Global, Act Local.” Hansen Lewis ’10, who has been heavily involved with sustainability on campus since her freshman year, joined because she “finds it rewarding to work on a project with such tangible results.”

Students are not the only people involved with the project. Nicole Lewis, a member of the Swarthmore Grounds Department and Sustainability Board, will be housing the young chicks in her garage before they are moved to the coop. Lewis echoed Scheub’s desire to bring students closer to their food: “Having contact with the source of my food and knowing that it is sustainably and humanely raised is extremely important to me and my family.”

The chicken coop will be built over October break and the chicks hatched over the winter. The chickens will be producing eggs by spring, but the project will not be without challenges. Scheub acknowledged that “lots of people don’t know about farming and the administration has to put their trust in me, a student, that I know what I’m talking about. It makes people uncomfortable.”

The restrictions on having animals on campus proved complicated, but thanks to Nicole Lewis, the group is past that hurdle. Now, the biggest challenge faced by the Chicken Initiative will be funding. Officially, Swarthmore Chickens is part of the Good Food Project, an arrangement which facilitated the initiative’s founding since a new organization did not have to be chartered.

The Composting Project, another subsidiary of Good Food, received funding through the Swarthmore Foundation Grants. The Chicken Initiative hoped to receive funding from the Swarthmore Foundation, but due to hard economic times the Foundation is focusing on projects that help struggling communities.

Start-up costs for the coop are approximately $2000; additional maintenance expenses will be low since the initiative is designed to be entirely sustainable. The Chicken Initiative hopes to receive supplemental funding through the Good Food Project and is accepting donations online. Swarthmore Chickens hopes to be the next step in the history of sustainability at Swarthmore. While the project faces its challenges, there may soon be chickens on campus.

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